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Capt'n


Early Saturday night. I think I've caught up with everyone's creative pieces and creative thinking from over the course of the week. Now I want to play.

This is another vignette from the '82 collection I've been drawing from. Its model is my favorite uncle who was still alive at the time. He was a thief, a liar, a crook, a philanderer, a one time moon shiner back during Prohibition, a one time gun runner, a dope smuggler in his old age, capable of bedding a brother's wife and making a daughter child who wouldn't learn the truth of her parentage until she was in her fifties, and capable also of having three wives simultaneously. Did I forget to mention that in his seventies he was bedding teenage girls who loved his company, maybe for the drugs and maybe for him, who knows? He is kind of emblematic of the generation of Florida Holloways, my mother's family, that spawned me. There was one difference between Uncle Henry and his 11 brothers and sisters. He was a mystic, the kind of mystic I get. My vignette is pure reportage, information I learned that summer of '82. But I know Uncle Henry was capable of embellishment. There is no way to know if half of what he told me is true, except maybe for the independent reports I got from his brothers and sisters. But they too were capable of telling unverifiable tales about themselves, many of which, and all of which, got played out in a pre-Disneychromatic Florida, still leave me reeling.



Capt'n

He left the palmetto scrub of home when he was still a boy of fourteen. He was sitting here now, home again and charting islands in the sand, an old man of seventy-four.

He said the port engine, an old marine Chrysler, was turning over now, and that they would replace the other engine with one rebuilt. With the two engines turning, and with a little work done to the boat's hull, the Sweety III could easily handle the trip to the Honduras. There he would run gasoline to an airstriup up the river for profit. His associate had assured him of easy money. And he knew, besides, that you could deal in anything there. Teak for New Orleans, bananas to Jamaica, gun running just like in the old days, and the marijuana was some of the world's best.

He said he found her, one night, while walking the streets of Hong Kong. Working as a stevedore he had jumped ship in Singapore just to see the town, and, a year later, he had stowed away on another ship steaming for that island city of cross-currents. He pulled a drunk there, he said. Then he went after her through the narrowing streets that always led down to the water. Between the cooking flesh escaping dinner pots on the air, and the smell of life's belly heaves, he found the face of her. His mother. When she died he had hid in the scrub for two weeks before leaving his brothers and sisters and his hated father. Still his mother, he found her in the Orient and he had kept the secret of how she stayed alive inside for him.

He said he burned all his papers on the Rosy Cross. People just thought you were strange if you said you were a Rosicrutian. So he had let his studies go. He let all his studies go, he said, except for the one natural law no one can break, being not man made. You reap the love you sow, he said the Master taught him. And he had kept the love of Christ warming inside him too.

He said he walked back across the Rio Grande after the Mexicans he hired stole his thirty mule load of gold rich ore. The smelting plant boys had had a great laugh over that one. And it happened every night of their slow march from the mountains to the border town. While the gringo slept, the Mexicans replaced the precious load of each sack with rocks and hardened clay. And standing on the river's bridge, he asked his Indian friend McAllister, what they should do with their last twenty dollar bill. McAllister said to tear it up and throw it over, which is what he did. In Loredo he dropped out of the only Depression soup line he would ever stand in.

He said he still loved a hurricane. During the last one, he and an old woman he knew, who lived down the road, were the only people not to leave the peninsula. He stayed in his house and she stayed in hers. And when the Civil Defense men came, and were flashing their lights, he hid in his closet. And all night long he stayed awake, an excitable boy again, watching the ocean come from over the beach-head and down his street like a river. From an upstairs window he saw the snapping power poles and the transformers popping their lids. They lit up the sky like oversized sparklers. He then said his house was the only one not to lose electricity, and he asked me why?

He said on the night she died it was February cold. The children were all standing around a bonfire in the backyard tring to keep warm. His mother, he said, had nursed most of them through the flu. She had not lost a single child. But by the time she came down with it she had no more strength left. He said he happened to look up to the window of her room. He said he saw a ball of fire burst through the window and arc its way up to heaven. He went inside to check on his mother. But the doctor met him on the stairs, put his hand on the fourteen year old's shoulder and said, "Your mother's gone, boy."

He said the island was right here, out from the mouth of the Shining River, and southwest to the point of his own gulfstream island. I looked at the map he drew in the dirt, and I saw how he was hauling the sea, the white sand, and the marsh coast over the land and into the jungle of his backyard. The sunlight was coming down through the squat oak trees that spead over his yard like splayed fingers. They could make the breeze always cooler. And the slanting light coming through those trees gave to his map sparkling contours and blue water reflections.

He said the island was right here, just out from an old abandoned port in the Gulf. He showed me how to get there, and he said he was the only man living who knew it belonged to no one. When the state auctioned the islands off because of unpaid taxes, the lines of property rights got misdrawn. The two other men who owned islands in the group each thought the island was theirs. But he had followed the lines with an old surveyor who knew better. By marsh and boat he saw how the lines cut through the swells, and how they missed a triangle, a marvelous angle, in which this seven acres of white sand, timber, and coon fern rocked in the waves. Now I knew also, he said. As young as I was and he was telling me.

I left the old man and took my way home by the beachside. Late day's tide was running out. I knew the sun would see me home, but I didn't know what would happen then. The moon would not show herself until late and she was not so young. And I kept seeing how the old man had stood, and how he looked at his boat earlier in the day. A summer squall had just gone over, on its way out to sea, and a white ibis had flown overhead. Circling back around, she sailed on down the tidal river. But he stood there all the while, his black eyes holding the boat steady for long minutes, and he took into himself its every foot. And I could still see him, sea sky giving way to evening's rest. And I wanted to be there to see the old man through the straights and across the water. The old boat sea straddling, its engines running, the low throaty drive; the old man pressing through while his smooth finger stump worried a pipe bowl. Night coming down, land giving way, the old man taking himself out to sea again. Only this time having to go it alone.

Terreson
Jan/23/2010, 9:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Capt'n


Tere,

Reading this piece is like going back in time--historical time, narrative time, even emotional time. By that I mean, the tone and pacing of the piece overall and of the stories told within the piece all harken back to an oral story-telling tradition. A time before television and movies, well before computers and post-modern fiction. Now everything is fast and jumpy, fragmented, polyvocal and obscure. Once a upon a time, the mysteries appeared in everyday life to ordinary, or maybe not so ordinary, people. As you point out, Uncle Henry was himself an unreliable narrator, a larger than life character who had a lifetime of memories and a summer full of good stories to tell. Perhaps that's where you inherited some of your own storytelling abilities?
Jan/28/2010, 8:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: Capt'n


Thank you, katfriend, for your generous comments. When I think of this character I call Uncle Henry I think of everyman and everywoman stuck inside circumstances with a spirit so large it sees fire leaping into the sky.

Tere
Jan/29/2010, 12:33 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Capt'n


Terreson,

Vignettes. Finding his mother in Asia; it wasn't covered all that well, but then some of us can understand that. Do all men find their mothers somewhere? That's a bigger question.

What did you do with the '82 collection. You know this piece, as all your pieces, have value in themselves. I wondered whether the '82 collection had a theme, whether it held together around a theme. It's frightening to think that there may be dozens of people like you, hundreds maybe, who have this ability and have the material to prove it, but who don't have the exposure or drawing power of an Annie Proulx, a Hemingway. Dave, dmeh, over at TCP also has narrative power in his prose poems, and I suspect in some of his prose (though I don't think I've ever seen his straight prose). But neither of you are collecting seven or eight figure paychecks.

This thing you wrote has power, even if it is a series of sketches within one slightly bigger circle, so to speak.

I read Katlin's review and agree with much of it but mildly question the suggestion that today "everything is fast and jumpy, fragmented, polyvocal and obscure." Maybe so in cutting-edge fiction, in what used to be called avant garde or post-avant garde literature, but I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, recently read fiction by Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy. Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize and McCarthy has won a McArthur Genius prize ($500,000 cash). My wife reads a book a week, probably over sixty books a year, and many of them best-sellers. So I question whether the majority of literature has gone the way Katlin describes. Maybe the cutting-edge lit has, though I would argue that both Proulx and McCarthy would argue they are on the cutting edge in their own way.

I have this discussion (in fragments) with some of my friends at TCP all the time. There it revolves around poetry. But there's an overlap with prose.

A further observation, opinion, I would present: I don't think that commercially the fragmented prose or poetry is keeping pace with the success of fragmented painting, for example. I don't know why that is, but that is my guess.

I'm open to other ideas and inputs. Each one of us can only have one narrow slice of vision. There are many modern writers I have not read, obviously.

In summary, I enjoyed this very much, and wish you the best for what you've written. Zak


Last edited by Zakzzz5, Feb/7/2010, 11:40 am
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Katlin Profile
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Re: Capt'n


Hi Zak,

Good points about best-selling fiction. Maybe I should have written literary fiction as I did in this thread:
 http://www.runboard.com/bdelectablemnts.f4.t804

Or maybe not? I used to be an avid fiction reader, very much like your wife, but haven't been in about a decade. Thanks for the information and clarification.
Feb/7/2010, 11:57 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Katlin,

I read the article you pointed to. The guy there was mainly referencing literary fiction. I agree with most of what he's saying about the proliferation of small lit mags and their later implosion. But the commercial fiction seems to still be going strong. Not necessarily the serious lit fiction. However, the two people I mentioned, as examples, Proulx and McCarthy are also considered serious writers.

It's difficult to get a clear view of what exactly is going on. It's true that the internet and all the other media has sped things up, and that our attention span is shorter. It's also true that people are turning away not only from books, but even from some tv. But I also see a lot of successful commercial writers out there. My wife reads them more than I do. I read my share. The situation is many-sided.

Maybe we should be grateful that we at least have ten or twelve people that read what we post on the internet. I've known for a long time that very few people read the print journals put out by the hundreds, thousands, of universities. Walk through any university library and note the thousands of poets in the thousands of journals, and my bet is that most of them don't even get read as much as the people here on this website.

One subject that comes up in discussions on occasion at TCP is the value of fragmented poetry (or prose). The defenders of that movement will sometimes say they are striving for a "new" way of communicating or a "better" way of communicating. Or they will say that they are for allowing the "reader" to decide on his own what it is that is being said, eschewing punctuation and traditional rules of writing. And that's great, in a way. But what does this do for the mass of people who don't even have the patience to read clearly written poetry or prose? Well, to hell with them, is what I sometimes hear. It's just an interesting conversation because I myself sometimes write fragmented poetry that ignores the traditional rules. We're still in the soup. Thanks for your comments. Have we hijeacked Terreson's piece here? Zak


quote:

Katlin wrote:

Hi Zak,

Good points about best-selling fiction. Maybe I should have written literary fiction as I did in this thread:
 http://www.runboard.com/bdelectablemnts.f4.t804

Or maybe not? I used to be an avid fiction reader, very much like your wife, but haven't been in about a decade. Thanks for the information and clarification.





Last edited by Zakzzz5, Feb/7/2010, 1:09 pm
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Terreson Profile
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Re: Capt'n


Thanks for reading the piece, Zakman. I am probably too fond of it, but I too think it tells a good story. Uncle Henry finding his deceased mother in the Orient is mostly intended to foreshadow the later tale of the night she died, and perhaps to suggest how long it took him, takes anyone, to process grief and accept her passing.

About the '82 collection. There are twenty something prose poems and vignettes in the set, ranging in length from a paragraph to five pages or so. It is how and when I taught myself to write prose. Maybe you remember the piece called "Veteran's Day." It is something you commented on once at the old Lily's board. That too is in the set. Between that and what I've shown here perhaps you can get an idea of the collection's tonal range. And, no, the pieces are not thematically bound. I've since combined the '82 collection with another set of prose pieces written two years later. The second set, maybe similar in tone, is different in that it consists of short, short stories, ranging in length from five to thirty pages. I call the combined whole "Cyclical Affections." Which title, and for me at least, evokes an old Ringo Star song line: "You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don't come easy."

As for any of this stuff seeing the light of day, heh, anybody point a publisher in my general direction and maybe I'll rethink a resolution I made a long time ago. What I mean is that for me the pub chase has for long been a lousy, decadent, no-level-playing-field game. I turned my back on it about fifteen years ago, which decision has actually proved liberating. The only thing that has seen publishing since was as a result of a close friend who took it on herself to do the dirty work. I am not trying to be flippant. It is just that after all the stupidities encountered among editors and publishers I got tired of the bastards. I've told this story before. But I remember one editor's rejection slip that actually said "I loved your novel but I could not sell it to the board." Those were her exact words. What, then, is a writer to think of the scene? Anyway, I find more meaningful satisfaction in writing for and reading to one person at a time. Like here.

Good conversation, Kat and Zak. And, no, I don't feel the thread has been hijacked. I guess the above shows where I stand in relation to it all. Of course, you are both right. It is the kind of discussion that always brings me back to the question: who do we write for? I've mentioned this elsewhere. But I remember a Terry Gross interview with Kurt Vonnegut. She point blank asked him: who do you write for? He did not pause or hesitate or even have to think about it. He shot back: my favorite sister who was the best reader I ever knew. I feel about it similarly. I write for an imagined reader who is the perfect reader, who is gifted. I have found more than a few on line.

Tere

Have come back to the conversation. About the exchange between Kat and Zak, and how I feel they are both right, it occurs to me that who gets to be more right depends upon where you are. As always, environment tends to be determining. The scene Kat brings to mind is the literary scene, say, in San Fransisco or NYC. Zak's thoughts evoke places like Olympia WA, Baton Rouge LA, and every rural environment between Georgia and eastern WA. This is admittedly a gross generaliztion. So please don't take me too hard to task for it. But I think there is something to the impact of demographics on the literary scene. I've read poems in one town that have caused the audible reaction and have gotten an encore. Same poems read in another town have gone tone deaf.

Either way a writer still has to get past the gate keepers.

(tere again)

Last edited by Terreson, Feb/7/2010, 5:02 pm
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